X Change is a way to measure our progress as a company, the state of our industry, and, of course, our choices around the event itself. Because the conference is so much work for us, I am always heartily sick of it by the time it arrives. Because the conference is so much work while it lasts, I am always thoroughly exhausted by the time it is finished. Because the conference is what it is, it is always one of the most enjoyable weeks of my year.
Since I post so much about X Change in the weeks before it arrives, I feel obligated to describe the actual event itself. So I won’t apologize for a dearth of Web analytics thoughts in this post – that will come in the weeks ahead. I’m going to be writing up my thoughts on what I learned at X Change and what I think it means for our industry. Someday, too, I'll track the distribution of Huddle topics over time. I think that would be really interesting. This year, "big data" and warehousing dominated along with lots of mobile. Neither would have been on the agenda four years ago.
I’ve got a lot of material, but one of the novel aspects of X Change is that the small group format makes for dramatically different Conference experiences and learnings. Unlike eMetrics, for example, where the major keynotes serve to bind the Conference together and create a common experience for good or ill, X Change’s small groups lead to a deeper but more fractured experience. So my thoughts will hardly serve to sum up the Conference and can provide no more than a sampling of the conversations and learnings to be had.
We drove down to Monterey on Sunday and were greeted by a not uncommon bank of gray, chilly fog. Having anxiously watched the weather forecasts, however, I expected better things in the days ahead and I wasn’t disappointed. From Monday afternoon on, we were treated to glorious sunshine and day after day of soft, sweet sunsets.
Monday was probably the toughest day of the Conference for me. We did Think Tank training and I taught three classes. Back to back to back all day. I reprised previous classes on Data Warehousing (though with some significant updates) and Survey/Behavioral Analytics before ending the day with a new class on Use Case Analysis. Grace put me in a lovely room with a window opening out onto the Bay. It pays to be married to the Conference manager I guess – except that I spend all day competing with the waves and the otters.
Think Tank classes are rather like X Change Huddles – small, conversational and deep. But they are much more guided and are, of course, structured around actual presentations.
For the Data Warehousing class, I was a little slow in the beginning and didn’t get to spend as much time as I’d like in the section that I revamped and am most interested in – the part on modeling behavioral data. But we still got a solid 30 minutes on modeling. I’m thinking I may split that out as an entirely separate class next time so that we can really drill down into it.
The Survey Class is usually my least popular and that was the case here again – though not by a lot. All my classes were nearly full – which isn’t saying that much since we try to keep TT classes very small to maintain the seminar feeling. I still think it’s a great class and the topic is one of the easiest wins in Web analytics.
My third class was an attempt to describe the methods and techniques involved in Behavioral Use-Case Analysis. I wrote the class for this Think Tank based on work we’ve been doing this past year and I thought it went pretty well for a first go round.
Having a class on analysis techniques is a bit like that old Monty Python sex-education skit where the master demonstrates sex with his wife in front of a group of bored, disinterested students. Some things are very difficult to translate from practice to class without losing their essence. I thought, nevertheless, that the class conveyed at least some of the essence of real analysis.
Then it was off to the reception – open-air and quite beautiful – over Monterey Bay. Truly one of the things that I enjoyed most about this X Change was the setting and the openness. Reception, lunches, even some Huddles got to enjoy the weather, the pristine coast, and the endlessly diverting motion of the Kelp forests, seals, otters, and kayakers just beyond our reach. Last year’s venue, the St. Regis, was as nearly perfect as a hotel can be. Elegant, modern, technological and stunning, the Regis was an extraordinarily nice venue. But after three days inside, I felt at the end of X Change like I was emerging from a particularly pleasing cocoon. Being at the Monterey Plaza opened up the whole event.
My first day’s Huddles were on “Hybrid Analytics Solutions”, “Communicating with Developers”, and “Segmented Testing.” Each was interesting in its own way and I’ll be writing up some thoughts about them going forward. The testing Huddle, in particular, helped crystallize my growing dissatisfaction with the basic story I hear about testing and how to do it – a story that I think needs some fairly significant re-writing.
Tuesday’s opening dinner was one of the highlights of the event. For the first time, we held the main X Change dinner away from the venue – taking advantage of the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium.
It was incredible.
We had the museum to ourselves with a one hour wine reception among two of the signature exhibits there – the seahorse and the jelly-fish exhibits. These are two almost astonishingly beautiful galleries. I do believe that the Aquarium’s jellyfish exhibit (much copied in the last decade) re-defined what could be done with this type of museum.
From there we went down to the main hall where we had a lovely candlelit dinner (and thanks, by the way, to everyone at my table for such an enjoyable and remarkably analytics-free conversation!). I’m a stickler for food at X Change and frankly, I was a little worried about the Aquarium catering. In general, the better the view the worse the food and I didn’t expect either the hotel or the museum to live up the standards set at the Regis or Ritz in years past.
They didn’t, quite. But the Aquarium did a very nice job. It was an excellent dinner, good enough to be enhanced by the setting instead of being a distraction from it. That’s really all I ask at a place like this. Instead of dessert at the table, we had dessert stations over by the giant kelp forest tanks and let everyone wander to their hearts content till 11PM when we walked the 5-6 blocks back to the hotel.
It was wonderful; my favorite event, by far, of all that we have ever done with X Change and I’ll certainly try to find similar opportunities in the years to come.
That left a nice glow for the next day when I survived six straight Tete-a-Tete’s (our opt-in 15 minute speed-dates with vendors including Semphonic) instead of breakfast. Since X Change is meant to be a no sales zone, I created these opt-in meet-and-greets so that attendees could take advantage of the vendors/consultants attending without having to impact the rest of the experience. It’s a little less intimidating than speed-dating but it’s a tough way to start the morning. Frankly, I’m not sure that a glass of OJ is enough to get through six of these effectively.
After that it was back to Huddles. I did “Page Centric to Component Centric Analytics”, “Retail Analytics”, and “Predictive Analytics” - surely a trio of deep-dive, high-powered topics and all very enjoyable.
At the close, we did our usual open feedback session to talk about ideas for the future, venues, huddle-sizes, and much more. I’d like to have a way to provide a final “crown” to the event – and perhaps next year I’ll try for something a bit different at the end. But it’s great to see everyone for the last time and just relax and talk things over.
Afterwards, the Semphonic staff in attendance detoxed over a few beers. The East-Coast contingent picked on our West-Coast oysters and we got a rare opportunity to just hang out for a bit before everyone trickled out.
Another year in the books and one of the very best. Great attendance. Great attendees. Liked the venue very much. Loved the Aquarium. Took away some pretty interesting ideas. That’s all I can ever ask for.
My kids came down after the last day (I let them play hooky for a bit) and after four days without either Grace or I they were so excited to see us they burst over to us bubbling with energy. The best conferences do that for us adults; they remind us of the pleasure and excitement that can reside in what we do for work; and if all goes well, they send us home tired, perhaps, but bubbling with childish enthusiasm.
See you next year!